January 8, 2006

God is speaking…are you listening?

Part 1: God is speaking through the Bible

 

Opening:

Today, we start a new series: “God is speaking…are you listening?”

Tell people that you talk with God and they’ll think you’re spiritual. Tell people that God talks to you and they’ll think you’re crazy! But you’re not! God speaks…are you listening?

If God called you on the phone, what would He say? Take responses from the audience. What wouldn’t He say?

I believe that God speaks. He speaks to me. And He speaks to you. The question is: are we listening?

 

Offering and announcements:

This Friday at 7 PM, Life Center will be hosting a benefit concert featuring Joel Weldon and his band, and a band called Catalyst. The concert is a combined effort of many churches to help support the Nichols family, a mother with seven young children and one on the way who recently lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. The concert is free; an offering will be taken for the Nichols family trust fund. This Friday at 7 PM, here.

Alpha is a terrific ten week course on the basics of the Christian faith. It starts on Friday January 20, and runs for 10 weeks on Friday nights. You can register today at the Information and Resource Center. It is offered only once a year, so don’t miss it.

Wednesday nights are changing. About four years ago, we decided to make Life Groups a core part of what we do; we began to encourage everyone to be part of a Life Group for friendship and spiritual growth. Since that decision, our Wednesday worship service attendance has been in steady decline, and Life Groups have been growing fast. So, for now, we have ended our Wednesday worship service and will continue to put our energy into Life Groups.

Several things are still happening here on Wednesday evenings at 7 PM. Junior High Impact will continue to meet in the Multi-Purpose Room. College Life will continue to meet for worship and teaching here in the auditorium. And Pastor Noel will offer his discipleship class in the upper room. Noel’s class starts this week. I didn’t know that last Sunday and about 25 of you showed up here last Wednesday for Noel’s class. My humble apologies! So every Wednesday: Junior High, College, and Pastor Noel’s class, here at 7 PM. However, there will no longer be a Wednesday worship service or childcare.

If you have been a faithful Wednesday night attender, we hope you’ll get into a Life Group. Which brings me to the next thing…

If you’re not in a Life Group, have we got a deal for you! Starting in mid-February, we’re going to give those of you who aren’t yet in a group a chance to taste group life for four weeks during a new series I’ll be doing called Communication for Dummies. It’s like test driving a Life Group! At the end of the four weeks, participants may either say, “That was great! See you at church in the future!” And that will be fine. Or they may decide they love group life and keep going. And that will be fine, too!

But here’s the deal. In order to make room for all of you who want to try a group, we need lots of people to lead brand-new Life Groups for the four weeks. I know that “Leadership” often sounds daunting. But we make it easy and fun! We provide a weekly study guide for the groups, and a quick orientation meeting for potential leaders to get you ready to go. Those orientations are today, and each of the next two Sundays—they are listed in your program.

Let me introduce you to Dave and Kimberly Beine, who have been part of many small groups over the years and are currently leading one at Life Center. Dave and Kim, let me ask you a couple questions about leading a Life Group.

  • What is so enjoyable or valuable about Life Groups? What makes it worth these good people’s time?

  • How did you end up leading a Life Group? Was it easier or harder than you first thought?

  • Tell us about just one experience you’ve had in a small group that showcases why you love them so much.

Dave and Kim, we appreciate your leadership here at Life Center! Thanks for talking about Life Groups with us. I hope you’ll consider leading a group—it’s easy and fun and we’ll help you. Check out the Life Group Facilitator Orientations to choose from listed for tonight and the two weeks in the Upcoming Events in your bulletin.

 

Introduction:

If you were marooned on an island and could have only one book with you, what would it be? Someone once asked this question of G. K. Chesterton. Given his reputation as one of the most well-known Christians of the first half of the 20th Century, most people expected him to say the Bible. He didn’t. If he was marooned on an island, Chesterton’s choice was Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship-Building.

That makes sense. If we’re trapped on an island, we want a book that will help us get home, a book that will show us how to be saved.

The truth is that we are trapped. Eugene Peterson says we are trapped on an “I-land”, stuck in our sin and selfishness, far from God and home and with no way to get back on our own. And the one book that can get us off this “I-land” is the Bible. This book tells the way home—it’s God’s message to us.

God speaks in many ways. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at several ways God speaks: through the Bible, in prayer, through other people, and through life. God is speaking—and I think God speaks more than we listen. Our prayer is found in 1 Samuel 3:9-10: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Would you say that with me? That’s our prayer.

So for the next few weeks, we want to think about the ways God speaks and how we can listen better. We’re going to start with the Bible.

 

1. God speaks to us through the Bible.

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words: (the Ten Commandments)

Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

In the past, God spoke. God spoke to Moses and gave Him the Law; Moses wrote down what God said and did. God spoke to the prophets, and the prophets wrote down what God said and did. God spoke and people wrote it down—they called it “the Law and the Prophets”—we call it the Old Testament.

Then God spoke again—“by His Son.” In fact, John called Jesus “the Word”. God’s ultimate Word is Jesus. God spoke through His Son, and people wrote it down—we call it the New Testament.

God spoke and acted in history; this is the written version. It is God’s word to us. And when we read it, God speaks to us. He is still speaking through His written word.

ILL: Last year, I read St. Augustine’s Confessions, written around 397 AD. Augustine wrote his biography in the form of a prayer to God. It’s brilliant and it’s beautiful. He wrote it 1600 years ago, but Augustine is still speaking to us…because he wrote it down.

God has spoken in history and was good enough to make sure it was written down so we can read it. He is still speaking through His written word.

How many of you have read the Bible and experienced God speaking to you?

ILL: I mentioned Augustine. In the best-known passage of The Confessions, Augustine describes his conversion. This brilliant man had been living an immoral life, and running from God. One day he was sitting under a fig tree in a garden.

Suddenly I heard a voice from a house nearby—perhaps a voice of some boy or girl, I do not know—singing over and over again, ‘Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.’”

I…rose to my feet, believing that this could be nothing other than a divine command to open the Book and read the first passage I chance upon…I snatched it up, opened it and read in silence the passage on which my eyes first lighted:

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’ (Romans 13:13-14)

I had no wish to read further, nor was there need. No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.”

God spoke to Augustine through the Bible and he was converted.

ILL: John Ortburg tells about a friend named Eileen who was disappointed with her life, but wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, when her daughter told her that someone had been talking to her about God, Eileen was so upset that she couldn’t sleep that night.

At midnight she went downstairs and picked up a Bible. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a church, nor had she ever opened a Bible on her own. When she opened it now, she noticed it was divided into an “old” part and a “new” part. She decided to start with the “new” part, figuring the book may have been updated.

So in the still of the night she sat on her living room floor and began to read the gospel of Matthew. By 3 a.m. she was in the middle of John’s gospel and found, as she puts it, that she had fallen in love with the character of Jesus. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she prayed to God, “but I know you are what I want.”

God spoke to Eileen through the Bible and she was converted. If you are investigating the Christian faith, I would encourage you to do what Eileen did: read the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. They are the story of Jesus—our faith is all about Him. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Get acquainted with Jesus, the Word, and see if God speaks to you through the Bible.

God speaks through the Bible, not only to convert us, but to help us grow and to direct us. I’ve given you a list of Bible verses that describe how God uses the Bible to speak to us, to shape us and direct us. We’ll look at just a couple.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

This was what every king of Israel was supposed to do. First, he had to write for himself a copy of the law—the first five books of the Old Testament. Imagine writing out a hand-written copy of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That would take awhile! Then the king was to keep it with him, and read it…how often? All the days of his life. Every day!

Why was he to do this? First, so he could learn to revere the Lord—to know, love and worship God. Second, so he could carefully follow God’s law. And third, so he would not consider himself better than his brothers and sisters. Reading God’s word would keep him humble, keep him from thinking he was a big shot! God speaks through the Bible.

John 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Here’s another way God uses the Bible to speak to us. When we read and follow the teaching of Jesus, we will know the truth, and it will set us free. First, it may make you miserable, but it will set you free. The truth will set you free.

John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Here’s another way God uses the Bible to speak to us. His word sanctifies us—that means it makes us holy, set apart for God and His purposes. It cleanses us and changes us.

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Paul uses Christ’s love for the church as an example for husbands and wives. Notice how Jesus cleanses us: “by the washing with water through the word.” He washes us with His word. Here’s another way God uses the Bible to speak to us. He cleanses us with His word.

Some people think Christians are brain-washed. I hope so! My brain needs a good washing! What happens when something doesn’t get washed as it should?

ILL: When I was in college, I washed my sheets once a term, when I went home at break.

The other day, my wife walked by me after we got home from jogging. She stopped and said, “You need to wash that shirt…now.”

It’s not pretty when something goes unwashed. My brain needs a good washing! You would probably be horrified if you could see some of the thoughts and feelings that race through my mind! All of us come to God with hearts and minds cluttered with false beliefs, bad attitudes, wrong thoughts, and misguided emotions. How does God wash us? With the water of His Word. Every time you read the Bible, God is washing you, speaking to you, cleansing you with the washing of His Word.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God speaks to us through the Bible not only to save us, but to thoroughly equip us for every good work. He not only speaks to cleanse us, but to equip us. God uses the Bible to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us for righteousness.

God speaks to us through the Bible.

ILL: Many years ago, when Laina and I were praying about moving to Spokane, God used the Bible to speak to us. We had been praying for several days, and it seemed like God was leading us here, but we were reluctant. All our friends and family were in Eugene, and we loved it there. We were part of a great church, and the church here was in sad shape. We didn’t want to come. Finally, the deadline arrived—we had to have an answer. So we knelt together by our bed, and I told Laina we were going to pray until we had a clear answer. As I prayed, I felt like God spoke and told us to go to Spokane and He gave me a verse.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

I told Laina that I had heard from the Lord, and she said, “Wait, before you tell me, I just want to say: I don’t want to move to Spokane.”

I told her that I thought God said we were to go, and gave her the verse. And I focused on the last part: “He will make your paths straight.” What’s the straight path from Spokane to Eugene? By air! I thought the Lord was saying that He would provide so we could fly home whenever we needed. It was the comfort I needed to pull the trigger and make the move. In fact, that wasn’t God’s point at all—it was that I should trust Him and not lean on my own frightened understanding. But God used that verse to give us courage, and we moved.

In our first week here, we had dinner with a lady in our church who had a gift for us. It was a hand-made plaque, with a Bible verse she had written in calligraphy. And the Bible verse was…Proverbs 3:5-6. She had no idea that was the verse that gave us courage to move. We felt like it was God reminding us again to trust Him—speaking to us through His word.

God speaks to us through the Bible. How can we listen better?

 

2. How to hear God speaking through the Bible.

If you want God to speak to you through the Bible, you need to read it! And it’s best to read it every day, just like the kings of Israel did. We’ve provided a Bible reading plan—it takes about 20 minutes a day to read through the whole Bible in a year. It takes a little more time to reflect on what you read and let God speak to you. But it starts here. Read the Bible…every day. It’s amazing how many people who say that they believe the Bible cover-to-cover have never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Read the Bible…every day. Here at Life Center, we encourage everyone to have PBJ time every day—Prayer, Bible and Journal. We have Life Center Journals to help you with this, and this is a great time to get started.

Here are some practical suggestions for hearing God speak to you through the Bible.

 

A. Ask God to speak to you through the Bible.

Pray first. Ask God to speak to you through the Bible. Ask Him to wash you with His word. A good prayer is found in 1 Samuel 3:9-10. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” This is where I start each time I read the Bible. “Speak to me, Lord.”

When you ask God to speak to you, then expect that He will. This is why I like to have my journal open when I read: I expect God to speak to me through the Bible. And when God speaks, I have found it helpful to write it down. When I listen to a speaker, I take notes so that I can remember what he said. When God speaks, I take notes so I can remember what He said. That’s why I journal.

When I read the Bible, I expect God to speak to me, to say something to me that teaches me, challenges me, corrects me or directs me (2 Timothy 3:16). I don’t read the Bible as a religious duty, just one more thing to check off my list. I read the Bible to hear from God. I expect that God will take His eternal word and apply it to my heart and life. As you read, certain ideas may strike you. You may be moved in reading about God’s love, or feel convicted about some sin, or be prompted to take some course of action. Expect God to speak to you.

So when I read, I start with this prayer and expect Him to speak to me.

 

B. Read the Bible with a humble heart.

Luke 8:18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen.

This second idea is all about how you read the Bible and how you listen to God. When it comes to Scripture reading, the key question is not how much, but how. How should you read?

James 1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

How should you read? Humbly. Read the Bible with a humble heart. A receptive heart. A teachable heart. A heart submitted to God. Read the Bible to know God and love Him. Read the Bible to hear from God and obey Him.

Read for transformation. “Wash me, Lord.” Reading for transformation is different than reading for information. I read the Bible so that God can speak to me, wash me and change me, not just so I can get more information, more knowledge.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I believe that when we read the Bible with a humble and hungry heart, God renews our minds and transforms us. Read for transformation. “Wash me. Change me.”

Of course, it’s possible to read the Bible without being washed by the Word. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day who knew the Bible, but weren’t changed by it.

John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

They read the Bible, but missed the message because they were proud. Read the Bible with a humble heart.

 

C. Read slowly: Meditate.

I hope that all of you will read the Bible all the way through. Actually, I hope that you’ll read it all the way through many times. But the goal is not to get through the Scriptures, but get the Scriptures through us. We’re reading for transformation, to give God a chance to speak to us and wash us and change us. And that means we have to read slowly. We have to meditate.

When I say the word “meditate”, some of you picture a yogi sitting cross-legged, emptying his mind and chanting a mantra. “Oohhmm.” That’s not what the Bible means by meditation. Meditation is mentioned over 50 times in the Old Testament. The word literally means “to mutter.” It’s a picture of someone thinking about something so deeply that they are muttering, talking to themselves. To meditate is to think deeply, to muse, to ponder; it is sustained attention.

Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Notice four things about meditation.

  1. How: Don’t let God’s word depart from your mouth. Meditation means “to mutter”. It involves your mouth and your mind. You keep saying God’s word as you think about it.

  2. When: Meditate on it day and night. Meditating on God’s Word ought to be part of our daily life—every day.

  3. Why: That you may be careful to do everything written in it. So you can obey. Transformation, not just information.

  4. Result: You will be prosperous and successful.

How many of you would like to be prosperous and successful? Let God’s word wash and transform you!

So if you are using our Bible reading plan, today you would read Genesis 20-22 and Luke 8. That’s four chapters. You can read them in about 20 minutes, even if you read them out loud. Now, you’re not going to meditate on all four chapters, but one section jumps out at you: let’s say, the story of Jesus calming the storm. Maybe you’re going through a storm, and you were struck by Jesus’ ability to sleep through the storm when everyone else was scared spitless. Lately, you’ve felt more like one of the disciples, scared and bailing for all you’re worth, than like Jesus, who was so trusting that He was asleep. Jesus’ words, “Where is your faith?” resonate in your heart. So you meditate on this brief passage. You take a few minutes and read this section, Luke 8:22-25, out loud, slowly, repetitively, stopping to think about individual words and ideas. “God, what do you want to say to me?”

By the way, one way to read more slowly is to read out loud, especially when a passage strikes you. Reading out loud slows you down, and you retain two to three times more of what you read aloud than what you read silently. I don’t read all my Scripture aloud, but I do read significant portions of it aloud. Remember, the root meaning of “meditate” is “to mutter”—reading slowly and out loud and repetitively is the start of meditation.

Most of what God says to me from the Bible comes this way. Some word or thought stands out to me, and I take time to read it out loud, slowly and ponder it. The operative word is time. It takes time to meditate. John Ortburg says, “You can’t meditate fast. There are no Evelyn Wood courses in speed meditation. ‘I can meditate at 700 words a minute with a 90% comprehension rate.’” It takes time to meditate. The cool thing is that you can do it anywhere. I’ve done a lot of meditation while I’m driving, muttering to myself and pondering some idea in God’s word. If that scares you, do it at a red light. Or while you’re waiting in line at the store. Or just add 10 minutes to your 20 minute reading time. You won’t regret it. God will speak to you as you read slowly and meditate.

 

D. Focus on one lesson and do it.

When I read several chapters of Scripture, I often have several Big Ideas that jump out at me. But I try to pick the biggest, the one that impressed me most, and make that my focus for the day. Sometimes I underline that in my journal, or write it in all caps so it stands out. The BIG IDEA for today—what God said to me.

Take that one thought or verse with you through the day. Focus on one lesson and do it. Remember we are reading for transformation. So don’t just get a great idea and write it in your journal: do it! Pastor Noel always says that it’s better to know one verse and live it, than to know the whole Bible and not do it.

James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

Do it!

God speaks through the Bible. If you want to hear Him:

  1. Ask Him to speak to you through the Bible.

  2. Read with a humble heart.

  3. Read slowly: meditate.

  4. Focus on one lesson and do it.